20 Trans Actors Changing the Face of Hollywood

20-trans-actors-changing-the-face-of-hollywood

Like many other marginalized groups, trans people are only just beginning to appear in media in larger numbers. And thanks to trans actors and actresses who are finally getting noticed, more and more trans people can see themselves in the TV and movies they love. But it’s not all good news just yet. GLAAD has tracked trans representation in the media since 2002, and found that 54% of TV shows that featured trans characters showed them in a negative light. An additional 35% ranged from “problematic” to “good,” while only 12% groundbreaking, fair and accurate enough to earn a GLAAD Media Award nomination. “We hope that representations of transgender people on television evolve to become as diverse, nuanced and inspiring as the community those images reflect,” said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick.

One of the persistent problems of trans representation onscreen is casting cisgender actors to play trans characters. This is harmful, because not only does it keep trans actors from getting work, it also perpetuates the stigma that trans people are just playing dress-up. But not only does having trans people in these roles, in writing rooms and as part of the production team improve visibility, it also results in more accurate stories. “The entertainment industry can help change that by giving us more opportunities and better parts that don’t solely focus on our sexuality,” actor Victoria Beltran told Vice. “It’s really simple. People just have to take a risk and give us the opportunity.”

1

Elliot Page

You may remember Page from his breakout role in Juno, or Netflix’s Umbrella Academy. He came out as trans in 2020, writing on Instagram, “I love that I am trans. And I love that I am queer. And the more I hold myself close and fully embrace who I am, the more I dream, the more my heart grows and the more I thrive. To all the trans people who deal with harassment, self-loathing, abuse and the threat of violence every day: I see you, I love you and I will do everything I can to change this world for the better.”

RELATED: 40 Best LGBTQ Movies to Stream Right Now

2

Laverne Cox

Perhaps best known for her role in Orange is the New Black, for which she was the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy in an acting category. In 2015, she nabbed a Daytime Emmy for executive producing Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word, making history as the first openly trans woman to win.

3

Asia Kate Dillon

Dillon also appeared on Orange, but most know them for their appearance on Billions. In their role as Mason, they’re the first openly non-binary actor playing a non-binary character on network TV. They’ve criticized the Emmys for its gendered categories and in response, MTV created a gender-neutral acting award.

4

Indya Moore

Moore has also appeared on Pose, but really made a name for themselves as a model. They were the first openly trans and non-binary person to grace Elle‘s cover, which they took as an opportunity to shed light on activism. “I don’t know who I am outside of someone who’s just trying to be free and find safety for myself and for others,” they told the magazine.

5

Dominique Jackson

Known for her role on Pose, Jackson has also written a book, The Transexual from Tribago which chronicles her journey. When her character got bottom surgery on Pose, she spoke out about the process. “Throughout the years, many people have had this misconception about being transgender and they have always come from their comfortability,” she told Metro in 2019. “But we also have to realize that having gender-affirming surgeries, it is a personal journey. Every trans person’s journey ends in a certain place.”

6

MJ Rodriguez

Also known for her role on Pose, Rodriguez has also appeared on shows like Nurse Jackie and The Carrie Diaries. She’s also said she finds it invigorating to represent her community.”We get to be ourselves and live out loud. Intimidating because there are so many things that come our way. And with what we have to deal with and the responsibilities that we have, [it] can be a little overwhelming,” she told Metro in 2019.

7

Jamie Clayton

Known for playing a trans hacker on Sense 8, Clayton’s also vocal about trans rights in show business. “Actors who are trans never even get to audition for anything other than roles of trans characters,” she tweeted after Scarlett Johansson was cast as a trans man. “That’s the real issue. We can’t even get in the room. Cast actors who are trans as non-trans characters. I dare you.”

8

Hunter Schafer

A newcomer to the scene, Schafer plays Jules on Euphoria. Her character is one of the few onscreen who actually doesn’t struggle with her identity but Schafer hopes that becomes the norm. “There need to be more roles where trans people aren’t just dealing with being trans; they’re being trans while dealing with other issues,” she told Variety. “We’re so much more complex than just one identity.”

9

Elliot Fletcher

With credits like Faking It, Shameless and The Fosters, Fletcher has played a diverse number of roles. That’s somewhat unusual for trans actors, who often get pigeonholed into one type or another. Fletcher hopes that continues, dreaming he’ll get to play Spiderman someday.

10

Josie Totah

Totah has appeared on shows like Champions and Glee, and said she first began to realize her true self when she was five years old. “This is not something that just happened. This is not a choice that I made,” she said in Time. “Long before I understood what the word gender meant, I would always tell my mother that I wished I were a girl. I always knew on some level that I was female.”

11

Jen Richards

Breaking onto the scene with the Emmy-nominated web series Her Story, you may also know Richards from Mrs. Fletcher, Nashville, and Tales of the City. That first project was groundbreaking because it featured two trans women, Richards and Angelica Ross, in stories that weren’t about tragedy or violence, but simply the journey of humanity.

12

Alexandra Billings

Billings’ career spans the screen and stage, with roles on Transparent, Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away With Murder, Never Have I Ever, Goliath and in Wicked on Broadway. In her role on The Conners, Billings likes getting to play a more well-rounded character. “What’s really fun is playing a trans character who’s just a little bit of an asshole,” she told The Advocate. “So much time I’m playing what I like to call the ‘magical trans lady.’ I come into scenes and I’m sort of like, ‘I’ll solve the problem.’”

13

Brian Michael Smith

“I saw zero representation of transmasculinity,” Smith told The New York Times Magazine of looking for himself onscreen growing up. “It was very isolating to grow up and have these dreams. I didn’t see how I was going to be able to do it.” Now, he’s appeared in a diverse range of roles on shows like Queen Sugar, The L Word and 9-1-1 Lone Star.

14

Nicole Maines

Playing Dreamer on Supergirl, Maines gets to tell her story onscreen while portraying the first trans superhero. She’s also vocal about spreading awareness about violence against the trans community and harmful anti-trans legislation. For her, it’s personal: she was the plaintiff in a Maine Supreme Court decision affirming the rights of transgender kids to use the restrooms that match their true gender.

15

Trace Lysette

Lysette has appeared in Transparent, Pose, and Hustlers, among others. As a former strip club worker, she told them that playing a sex worker onscreen helps reveal the reality of the job. “I’ve played sex workers so many times, but I’ve been lucky that most of them have quite a bit to say. They’re real human beings. I can speak to Middle America through these characters,” she says. “I don’t want to be typecast, but I think my body of work speaks for itself and hopefully doors will continue to open for girls like us.”

16

Leo Sheng

Sheng fell into acting almost by accident, auditioning for Adam after a casting agent messaged him via Instagram. He’s since appeared on The L Word, as well. An active poster on social media about his personal journey, Sheng told the NYT that he wants people to see trans bodies as they are, in all their diverse forms.

17

Mya Taylor

Even after winning Independent Spirit Award for Tangerine, Taylor says she gets sick of being labeled a “trans actress” instead of simply an actress. “I’m just so tired of the labels and I’m just so tired of how hard it is,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve done so many auditions compared to when I first started, but I was doing a lot of auditions for trans roles that focused around this victimology and I just got tired of that.”

18

Jake Graf

Graf first started out auditioning as “just one of the guys” without disclosing his trans identity, which he said carries a complicated luxury. “Largely due to our physicality, we’ve been afforded the luxury of living that unseen, under-the-radar, stealth life. Trans women have historically been more visible,” he explains. “Trans men have been out there doing things much more quietly, which is great for them, but not great for visibility.”

19

Scott Turner Schofield

Schofield, of The Bold and the Beautiful, also wants to see more visible trans men onscreen. “Trans men have been completely invisible in Hollywood,” he told Hollywood Reporter. “We kind of blend into the background.”

20

Alexandra Grey

As a Black trans woman, the Transparent actor says she gets even fewer opportunities because of her intersectional marginalized identities and how trans actors often get pigeonholed. “I personally lose roles because I hear that I’m ‘too pretty,’ I’m ‘too passable,’ I’m ‘too normal’ and I don’t fit this stereotype of what trans actors are supposed to look like,” she told Hollywood Reporter.

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